APCON Event for Business - Network Security Simplified

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Last month, we hosted a Network Security Simplified event where we covered hot topics around the cybersecurity threats facing businesses, government agencies, educational institutions and consumers today.

If you think about it, we’re constantly being bombarded with news headlines about cyber hacks and data breaches happening all over the world. In fact, there are probably some very high-profile attacks you can think of that have occurred over the last months and years. From cloud computing to the internet of things, the threat landscape has never been bigger. Considering that on average, a data breach will cost companies $7.3 million in damages and business interruptions, there’s never been a better time to implement robust cybersecurity policies and programs.

During our discussion, APCON experts broke down some of the terms and concepts around cybersecurity in a way that was not only easy to understand but practical to put into use. We explored some real world examples of cyber-attacks and how businesses and consumers can implement some basic cyber defense tactics to protect their digital assets. Some of the topics we covered included:

Espionage and Sabotage: In this real-world spy vs. spy scenario, nation-state actors are persistently trying to penetrate the digital walls of their adversaries. But what are they after? Anything from military technology to trade secrets.

As recently as last year, a Chinese national was convicted of hacking into defense companies’ networks to steal information about US military technology. This particular hacker was able to infiltrate classified networks and successfully extract many secret military documents and sell them to the Chinese government. Other notable recent attacks include Russian operatives hacking DNC computers and releasing thousands of documents and emails.

Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, this kind of covert cyber activity is constantly on the rise and happening in the background all around us even though we may not even be aware of it. Some tactics to guard against this type of cyber threat include 24x7 network visibility and monitoring, updated network security equipment like firewalls, intrusion prevention systems and intrusion detection systems, ensuring that all sensitive data, like trade secrets, is encrypted, and educating employees on the dangers of threats like malware and phishing attacks.

Email Threats: In today’s connected world, email is one of the most vital communication tools for businesses and consumers. However, being such a widely used tool also makes it a massive target for cybercriminals.

Typical threats facing email systems today include spam, phishing and malware. About 53% of all email is spam. Phishing tactics have been around for a while, however there has been a recent explosion in the use of phishing emails thanks to the emergence of spamming operations that make it extremely easy to outsource massive spam campaigns. Also, phishing emails are becoming increasingly more targeted and effective using social engineering tactics, where malicious emails are masqueraded as legitimate to entice victims to click on dangerous links or open infected attachments. The typical payload of these malicious emails is malware. Once malware infects a computer it can sit silently, unnoticed in the background watching all the activity on the victims’ computer.

One of the most common forms of malware is called a keylogger, which allows cybercriminals to see every keystroke that’s typed in, essentially giving away usernames and passwords. Another form of malware that has made global headlines recently is called ransomware. When a computer becomes infected with ransomware, the program essentially encrypts all the files on the hard drive and the victim is pressured to pay a ransom to unlock their files. WannaCry and Petya are two examples of ransomware that infected millions of computers across the globe and it’s estimated they’ve caused $2-4 billion dollars in damages and business disruption.

Some of the best practices to defend against email-borne threats include implementing a spam filter to block malware, deleting any suspicious emails, being very cautious with any email attachments and never clicking on links in an email unless you’re absolutely sure it’s taking you to a legitimate website.

The Underground Economy: Once cybercriminals have successfully infiltrated private networks and illegally extracted user data, they need a way to profit from their stolen information. Thus, the emergence of the underground economy.

Located in the dark web, cybercriminals are buying and selling all kinds of nefarious programs and data. In fact, cybercriminals no longer even need to have coding skills to wreak digital havoc on a global scale. For example, a threat actor with malicious intent could simply purchase a malware Trojan for as little as $3.00. Then for another few dollars outsource a spam operation to send the malware laced emails to thousands or hundreds of thousands of email addresses.

Another disturbing trend is the ease with which personal information such as credit card accounts, social security numbers, passports, and other private information can be acquired. This highlights the need for all consumers to be vigilant with credit report monitoring and making sure to use strong passwords for all online accounts, especially with financial institutions.

The Takeaway: Cyber threats are a reality of the world we live in. And the fact is, the threat is only going to continue to grow. Remaining vigilant and taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity is the only way forward to protect ourselves and the businesses we work in and for.

Additional reading:

https://www.symantec.com/security-center/threat-report

http://www.verizonenterprise.com/verizon-insights-lab/dbir/

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